Westinghouse: Project canceled 'without warning'




A week after efforts to build two Westinghouse power plants came to a screeching halt in South Carolina, the Cranberry-based nuclear firm chronicled the shock of the moment and began dealing with the aftershocks.

About 6,000 people worked at the V.C. Summer site where two utilities, SCG&E and Santee Cooper, had commissioned Westinghouse Electric Co. to build two AP1000 power plants nine years ago.

Westinghouse had hundreds of its own employees at the site last week when the South Carolina utilities decided to stop the construction project that already was years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. The decision stemmed in large part from Westinghouse’s March 29 bankruptcy, the utilities said. 

But their move came “without warning,” Westinghouse said in a document filed with the bankruptcy court Monday.

The project owners did not give Westinghouse any notice before dismissing its subcontractors and vendors on the job, telling them to “halt all shipments and suspend or demobilize all work in progress,” the nuclear company said.

The utilities also restricted Westinghouse’s access to the project, the company said, “escorting its employees off the site using armed personnel, and subsequently only allowing entry to a handful of Westinghouse’s representatives and subcontractors, preventing Westinghouse from generally accessing the site” and carrying out its responsibilities.

The same was true for other workers like Kenneth Blind, a nuclear construction technician with Fluor Corp., the Texas-based firm that Westinghouse brought in in late 2015 to get the troubled construction work back on track.

Mr. Blind echoed Westinghouse’s account of what it was like on the day the project was canceled.

He found it strange that the Friday before the dismissals craft workers suddenly were told to hand in their work packages — binders with work instructions necessary to do their jobs, he said.

But the day before, Scana Corp., which owns part of the VC Summer project, had announced that Westinghouse’s parent company Toshiba Corp. had agreed to a $2.2 billion guarantee for the power plants. Mr. Blind took that as a good sign.

So did Westinghouse, which wrote in its bankruptcy filing on Monday that negotiating Toshiba’s commitment sent the message of wanting the projects to continue.

On the morning of July 31, things at V.C. Summer continued as usual. Mr. Blind’s team was starting to pour concrete for one of the buildings near the reactor. Around 11 a.m., a security guard approached him and asked if he would be sent home, too.

Too? Mr. Blind asked.

He went to find his boss, who then called his boss — a scene that was playing out across the huge site where thousands of workers were grasping at rumors. Word of armed guards had started to spread.

At an “all-hands meeting” at 2 p.m., they were told it was their last day on the job and thanked for their contribution to the project, Mr. Blind said.

People were angry, he recalled, and some were crying.

They began hustling to collect their stuff. “If you couldn't fit it through the turnstiles, you just had to leave it,” he said.

Now begins the work of “demobilizing” and “stabilizing” the site, Westinghouse said, vowing in a court document to seek payment from the South Carolina utilities for its part of the winding down process.

On Monday, Westinghouse also asked the court to allow it to break thousands of contracts associated with the V.C. Summer project. The contracts cover everything from engineering services and security protection to scaffolding and urine testing.

Had the project owners negotiated with Westinghouse to take over control of the power plant construction, as Southern Co. did with the Vogtle project in Georgia, these contracts would have likely changed hands from Westinghouse to the South Carolina utilities.

Now, they will join the long march of unsecured creditors in Westinghouse’s mammoth bankruptcy.

Anya Litvak: alitvak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.

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